'God has a plan that we don’t know': Curt Campbell retires, still serves for a better community

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Curt Campbell believes in following God’s lead and not his own. It is a strategy that has forged his life’s path toward service to others within the community he loves and grew up in.

The 68-year-old recently retired as an account manager from the Orangeburg Coca-Cola Co. after 19 years of service to the company.

He has been as equally dedicated to community service as a member of more than 20 years of the Orangeburg Rotary Club, and as a member of the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association and the Orangeburg Historical Society. Campbell is also a former member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Edisto Habitat for Humanity board.

Whether he’s whipping up pancakes for a fund-raising benefit, cutting a neighbor’s grass, picking up trash along the street, donating much-needed blood at his local hospital, or cleaning up old, overgrown graveyards, he’s still committed to making a difference in his native Orangeburg.

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“Rotary has a saying of service above self, and I think being able to help somebody is important … I’ve always had good teachers, coaches and role models from when I first started delivering The Times and Democrat newspaper in probably 1960 or so until I went to The Citadel,” Campbell said.

He said community service has been in his blood a long time.

“I coached at Wade Hampton Academy and Orangeburg Prep in football and soccer for a number of years. I’ve been a past deacon and elder in the First Presbyterian Church. I was a youth adviser. Working in the cemetery is my committee now,” he said, smiling.

Campbell went on four mission trips with his church to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Also, DORA’s Taste of Orangeburg event and Orangeburg Idol, the group’s hometown version of the hit ABC series “American Idol,” are both events that were spawned by Campbell’s and other volunteers’ work.

‘Like a family atmosphere’

Campbell said his work at Orangeburg Coca-Cola Co. was both rewarding and challenging.

What did he like most about his job?

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“Associating with the people at work and the people in the stores,” he said.

“It was a lot of working with folks at the Piggly Wiggly, those grocery stores, going into convenience stores, other stores like Dollar General, CVS and Walgreens and helping the young men stock the store and make sure it was up to Coke’s standard and the stores’ standards,” Campbell said.

He said the coronavirus required him to adapt to workplace changes.

“COVID put a lot of people into the stores, and it stopped restaurants and fast-food places for a good while. So the grocery stores were really moving for a good while. We had to work smarter and more hours getting the products to the stores because some products kind of went away for a while because there was a shortage of aluminum cans,” Campbell said.

He said working at the company was sort of like a family affair.

“It was a family-like atmosphere working with Jim Avinger, the owner, and Dwight Frierson, the general manager. I grew up with them. So it was a good family-type working environment,” Campbell said.

Frierson, president of Orangeburg Coca-Cola Co., said, “I grew up knowing Curt. We’ve been going to church together all our lives. We were not only workmates, but we’ve been friends for 60-plus years. It’s been a great relationship, and I appreciate Curt more than he even knows.”

Frierson said Campbell was one in a long line of employees whose longtime service to the company was appreciated.

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“Curt, of course, was out in the public all the time. His community service was second to none. It benefited the community and us for him to be out there in the public and representing Coca-Cola in such a positive manner,” he said.

“We couldn’t ask for any more … His public service is what sets him apart. He had community service in his mind 24/7. He always looks out for others and puts himself second,” said Frierson, noting that Campbell was loved by those he served at Coca-Cola.

“He was an account manager. The folks he called on loved him. They’d talk about him all the time. He made some incredible friendships over the years. Curt never met a stranger. He knows everybody, and it was our pleasure and privilege to have him working for us,” he said.

The management staff at the Piggly Wiggly on Columbia Road in Orangeburg presented Campbell with a retirement gift for his years of service.

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“They gave me some golf balls, a fishing rod and a cake as a going-away retirement gift,” Campbell said.

He recalled one thing about his job that he didn’t particularly like.

“When the case of drinks you need was on the very bottom of the pallet. The soft drink business is very labor intensive,” Campbell said, particularly when you have to scramble to pick up drinks from a dropped pallet.

“I was taking a pallet of drinks to Mr. Leonard Sanford at Ace Hardware once, and the pallet turned over as we were taking it off the truck. He had a parking lot full of rolling Coke cans. It was what it was. You just scooped up the damaged (cans), put it back on the truck, took off and went to reload,” he said.

‘Good having great parents’

Campbell is a son of the late Mike Campbell, a former city treasurer, and Katherine Campbell, a former math teacher and administrative assistant at Wade Hampton Academy and freelance photographer.

“It was good having great parents that showed my brother, Randy, and myself what was expected and what was not acceptable,” he said.

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Campbell said the teachers and leaders he’s encountered from his days at Ellis Avenue Grammar School to The Citadel also shaped him into the civic-minded man he is today.

“In school, you always had to move desks, pick up trash from wherever or move this equipment from here to there. At The Citadel, you always had opportunities to be taught and to teach constantly,” he said.

As part of his volunteer work, Campbell is still cleaning up fishing holes, donating blood at the Regional Medical Center and tidying up graveyards, as he was doing recently at the First Presbyterian Church cemetery, along with his dog, Rory.

“Lawrence Wienges, a veterinarian in Fort Motte, and I have been working the last couple of years on reclaiming a cemetery back from nature. It’s right down from the Episcopal church in Fort Motte,” Campbell said.

Campbell and his wife, Tamra, are the proud parents of a 29-year-old daughter, Evan. He said his family’s support has also been helpful to him over the years.

“They know that public service has been a priority. They have given me almost a free reign in doing things that are positive,’ said Campbell, who is enjoying his retirement.

What is he doing? Well, it had to involve helping someone else.

“A little kayaking, and I like to go to baseball games. I cut a few people’s grass for them. It’s good to be able to move around where you can do things. If you start feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll see somebody who’s lost a leg or arm. It’ll snap you back into reality real fast,” Campbell said.

“God has a plan that we don’t know. We just need to follow his lead,” he said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD